Before Forward Madison FC left for preseason training in Birmingham, Alabama, last Saturday, coach Daryl Shore discussed moving on from the team's inaugural season and building the 2020 roster in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal.
Here's an edited version of the conversation ahead of Saturday's first preseason game at Memphis 901 FC:
'The standard has to be higher'
WSJ: What was your message in your first meeting with the team this year?
Shore: That we needed to be better than last year. Everything that happened last year is in the past. It was a great season. Off the field was amazing. On the field was good. But at the end of the day, it's over. And now we have to concentrate on this season and what our goals are going forward.
Every team wants to be that last team standing. We achieved some good goals last year. We need to set some new goals for this year, and the standard has to be higher. What we said to our guys is that if each of us as individuals can be better every day in training, then that'll make our team better and we'll have a chance to be that last team standing at the end of the year.
'We needed to get better at finishing our chances'
WSJ: As last season went along, did you find the pieces to get better? Was the progression in the right direction throughout the year?
Shore: Yeah. We knew it's a long season. The old adage, it's a marathon, not a sprint. We knew that at the end of the year we needed to be playing our best soccer. I think everybody saw that by the end of the year, we were playing our best soccer.
What we weren't doing well enough was scoring enough goals. Obviously, we were good defensively — we were probably the best, if not the second-best team defensively, especially at the end of the year. But we needed to get better at finishing our chances. And so those were some of the things in the offseason that we talked about. Those are some of the things we've tried to address with some of the players that we've brought in.
But at the end of the day, I think what you saw last year is the first couple of months, us figuring out who we really were. And then once we did figure that out, then it was maintaining a level of consistency and productivity that I think you saw toward the end of the year. We were pleased with how we were playing at the end of the year. We were pleased with how we played for the first 60 minutes in the game against North Texas in the playoffs.
But you've got to have a couple special players that can make special plays, and obviously (North Texas) did that in that last game. It wasn't from lack of effort. It wasn't from a lack of commitment. It wasn't from a lack of talent. They just on the day were the better team. We've got to figure out ways to be able to say that at the end of the day, we were the better team on those nights.
Shore: Peter was a big part in building this roster last year. He worked closely with me, and I would say, together with the help of Conor (Caloia, chief operating officer) and with the help of Neil (Hlavaty, assistant coach), we built a roster that we thought was going to be good enough to compete for a championship. And at the end of the day, it was.
This year, we looked at a couple things that we thought we needed to do. We felt like we needed to get younger. We felt like we might have needed to get a little more athletic. But we also needed somebody who we could rely on up top to be our go-to guy. We really targeted Woj (Wojciech Wojcik), knowing that he's had a successful career in the lower leagues here. But also, he was a guy that wanted to be in Madison. We tried to get him last year mid-season on loan, and it just fell through. He was a guy that we really wanted to get with our group.
And then we also felt like, even though we were good defensively, we needed to be a little bigger and a little stronger. And I think you'll see that with some of the guys that we brought in.
We lost some good players, some key players. Losing Josiel (Núñez, to CD Universitario in Panama) is going to be a big challenge for us. But we also feel like we found some young guys that can come in and fill that role. Our roster's not finished yet. We've still got a few more pieces to fill and then some other things that we're working on as well.
'We're still in talks with them'
WSJ: You had an affiliation with Minnesota United last year. Did it work out the way you wanted it to? There were games where you didn't have players who were key components of your lineup. How do you look at that going forward?
Shore: Our relationship last year with Minnesota was fine. We knew what we were getting into. We knew that we were going to have Wyatt (Omsberg) and Carter (Manley) and Mason (Toye) early in the year. Did we think we were going to have them at certain times that we didn't? Yeah. But at the same time, their roster changed and they went through some areas where they were down in numbers.
At the end of the day, when they were here, they were all bought in and they were all great for our group. Obviously, Mason has done very well and the sky's the limit for him. Carter's no longer with Minnesota and Wyatt just got traded.
We're still in talks with them. It was a one-year deal. We're still trying to figure out where we go next. Hopefully we'll have an answer by the beginning of March. But we are working on a few different things. No doors are closed on either end. We just have to wait it out. That's kind of why you only see the players signed that we have signed.
The one thing I will say is last year when we built this team, we knew we were getting those three guys. So we kind of built the roster positionally around those guys. This year, we've gone out and built the roster ourselves, and not expecting anything. So we've gone out and found players that we think will fit into the spots that we needed. And then whatever we get on loan, we feel like that's extra gravy and will be something that will obviously make us a better team.
'Make Breese Stevens a fortress'
WSJ: This club set a really high bar in the community and in game-night entertainment last year. I know this isn't your side of things, but how excited are you to see where it can go after setting that standard last year?
Shore: We're super excited. We had a great team dinner last night with the whole front-office staff and the players. So it was great for them to mingle. All of the players, the ones that were here last year and the ones that are coming in, in some way, shape or fashion got a taste of what happens at Breese Stevens Field.
We feel like we still owe it to our fans to be better at home. We lost four games at home. Even though they were all 1-0 games in the league, we felt like we let them down a bit. So if we can come in and make Breese Stevens a fortress and make it really difficult to play in, with the help of our fans — what goes on in that stadium is absolutely amazing.
I know the Flock have new and better things planned. I know our front office has new and better things planned. It's going to be a hard act to follow. The bar has been set high. But if anybody can go higher, I think it's our organization. I don't think they've missed a beat this offseason. So we're excited.
Season ticket sales are up. I think it's an 85% renewal rate. But the amount of season ticket holders is higher than it was last year. I know our corporate sales have been doing well. The Madisonians that were here last year love it, and the ones that weren't, I think are going to fall in love with it when they come out and see it.